Abused shelter dog rebounds to become K-9 cop

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JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (WIBW) - The newest crime fighter at a Kansas Sheriff's Department is making quite an impression for her sweet smile and bittersweet beginnings.

As Nova bounded alongside her partner Wednesday, a telltale bare spot encircling her snout is the only sign of the life she left behind when Lt. Justin Stopper chose her as the partner he needed to help sniff out trouble along the highway.

"There are a number of instances each day that would require me to need a dog," Stopper said. "My job is primarily [drug] interdiction on the interstate."

Stopper and his bosses at the Geary Co. Sheriff's Dept. started looking last fall for a second canine for the agency. They considered vendors but decided to see if the local animal shelter held the perfect match.

"We decided that maybe we could give a dog a chance that maybe hadn't had the best life," Stopper said.

A few weeks earlier, in mid-October, Nova arrived at the Junction City/Geary Co. Animal Shelter. Shelter director Vanessa Gray said the 1-year-old German shepherd was in rough shape.

"The top of [her nose], the scab was pretty significant, but underneath was red and it was open all underneath, so that's what made us take her to the vet," Gray said. "They believe something was tied around there, whether it be wire, string, rubber band, but it was on there for a significant time because the scar tissue possibly had grown over whatever it was."

Nova was also very thin, weighing less than 30 pounds-- about half what a dog her age and breed should have been.

"You could see her ribs, you could see her hip bones, everything," Gray said.

But Nova also had something else.

"She was the sweetest dog," Gray said.

When the sheriff's office showed up wanting a non-aggressive animal to use for drugs searches and search and rescue tracking, as opposed to suspect apprehension, Gray thought of Nova. She wasn't yet on the adoption floor but she introduced Nova to Stopper anyway.

"Immediately, I fell in love," Stopper said.

He opened the door and Nova nosed right on through. He started out picking her up from the shelter each day.

"We were just trying to get acclimated, see if she would get car sick easy or how she dealt with people," Stopper said. "She took to it right away. I think the second time I picked her up, she laid down in the kennel before I even left the parking lot."

From there, it was on to training. Stopper said it was actually more difficult for him, as he learned to interpret her mannerisms.

On March 19, Nova earned certification in narcotics detection and tracking.

"To see her thrive from starting like that, to have that past, and then to go up into something like this where she's a big girl now, so to speak-- it's just amazing," Gray said. "We're so excited for her!"

And they're excited for everyone to see what they already know-- despite their scars, shelter dogs like Nova are shining stars.

"She went through a lot of pain," Stopper said. "It's just a constant reminder of what a dog can achieve when it's given a chance."

(Source: Geary Co. Sheriff's Office)